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The challenge

The new government's task is to prevent Spain from losing prosperity that took decades to achieve

Spain's situation has changed beyond recognition since the elections in 2008, which the Socialist Party won largely by appealing to the electorate's fear of what a Popular Party that had taken a confrontational approach in opposition would do in office. True, the subprime mortgage crisis had already exploded in the United States, but the widely held opinion then was that the euro would protect countries like Spain from the worst of the financial fallout. Today, it is the euro that is in crisis, to the extent that many analysts are questioning whether the single currency can survive in its present form. Meanwhile, the economy continues to slump, while unemployment has risen to more than 20 percent.

The Spain that went to the polls yesterday is not the country more concerned with the details of each party's political program or its ideology than with stark questions of prosperity and wellbeing. It is true that such questions didn't seem to occupy people's minds as they do now, concerned as they are with a brutal reality that has transformed an optimism built on fragile foundations into well-founded pessimism. The ideological questions that decided the vote in 2008 have been replaced, in just three years, by the need for answers to urgent questions raised by the economic crisis. This heightened awareness of the problems facing this country will inevitably become the focus of the new government. The campaign was a disappointment, but nobody could deny that the only subject of interest has been, and will remain, the economy.

Over the coming months and years, starting from today, the sole priority of the new government in Madrid will be to prevent Spain from losing the prosperity and wellbeing that has been acquired over recent decades. For this reason, yesterday's elections were transcendental, and their significance is clear for both electorate and politicians, given the gravity of the situation. Nobody should think that simply by voting, they have handed over responsibility for finding a solution to this country's problems to somebody else. The new government will not have a magic wand. A collective effort will be required if Spain is to overcome its difficulties, and its leaders will have to inculcate the need for continued collection action.

The new government will not be able to do much in the economic sphere without strengthening cooperation between Spain's European partners. This will mean making a greater contribution to a project that so far has brought more benefits than it has required sacrifices. This government's responsibilities lie not just with the Spanish electorate but with the other administrations in Europe. Aside from addressing the country's dramatic unemployment levels, it will have to work toward keeping the European project alive. Spain is one of the main economies in the euro zone; it must play its part in helping come up with solutions to the European crisis.

Spain begins this new legislature free from the threat of terrorism, and was able to hold elections without fear of violence. This achievement is the result of hard work and bravery on the part of many citizens. That same fortitude will be required at a national level if we are to consign the present crisis to the past, and build a more prosperous and caring nation.

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